National Fisherman

The Rudderpost 

jesJes Hathaway is the editor in chief of National Fisherman magazine and NationalFisherman.com.

 

In anticipation of this year’s FisherPoets Gathering in Astoria, Ore., Pat Dixon sent me a lovely piece of poetry.

Then he sent me another.

I have a feeling this could go on and on. Moments like these remind me of how much I love my work. If only I were so lucky as to lounge over poetry every day.

2015 0224 FisherPoetsI asked Emilie Springer — who will be on stage this year and who contributed her story for our most recent North Pacific Focus quarterly — to share with me her thoughts on the Gathering: “I think sometimes, the fishermen (my dad, my brother, my husband included) roll their eyes at us (the ones doing the writing),” Emilie wrote. “But, I personally think the storytelling is really critical to the culture of the industry. Regardless of whether or not they (the fishermen) want to call themselves a culture. They are.”

As I said to Emilie, people should write about what they know. And while it may seem like regular life to some people, nothing worth writing about or getting on stage to talk about, it’s just those sort of regular, everyday things that are hardest to write about and come to life in poetry and prose. It’s the magic in the mundane.

Yesterday, I read a piece by another inspiring fisherpoet, Tele Aadsen, on being a woman in a fisherman’s world. I’ve read this prose before, or at least a version of it. But a piece of art this carefully knitted together is worth a second look.

Those of you lucky enough to attend the Gathering this year will have just one chance to absorb each of the fishy tales you’ll hear during the three-day celebration that starts Friday, Feb. 27. At least until Pat puts together another anthology.

Here’s one of the pieces he shared with me. Thanks to all of you for sharing your other craft, whichever it may be, it's the art of fishing.

FisherPoem
 
I slide into this crowded bar
   like I’d ease a boat into a slip:
the river is crowded tonight.
   Fisherpoets
ride these aisles like currents.
     Tying up to booths,
 dropping anchors on barstools,
 they open journals like hatch covers:
     unsure of how the catch compares.
How many brailers does the rest of the fleet
     have tonight?          
                  How many pounds?
(Maybe I’ll wait to deliver until morning,
    when no one else is watching.)
 
But morning comes and no one cares.
  We drink beer, watch the show,
         and listen.
The stories fill the air like jumpers;
    words weave to catch them on nets hung deep,
ears cock for the sound of a splash
eyes narrow, looking for hits.
 
Here comes the next set, and a poet picks up the microphone –
     static over the radio, the bar chatter fades,
     whispered verses lift us, ride on the back of a swell:
         The VHF just said a boat went down with all hands.
         Sunrise lit the mountaintops the color of salmon.
         …that halibut hook sunk deep into the side of his hand.
         The lights of the fleet looked like the stars fell to the ocean.
Pea soup.
         She went over when we weren’t lookin’…
 
A slip of a boot on a wet deck
becomes a slip of the tongue,
and this place fills with salt water.
 
The speaker pauses,
hangs up the mic and walks away without a look.
 
In a moment all hell will break loose,
and we’ll live it again in the telling,
but as the story lands on the dock
         solid and hard,
we can sense the slightest change of the engine,
         feel the gentlest breeze,
         hear our own heart beat
             in the distance,
             in the waves.

It’s been a simply brutal winter in New England. This week, a hiker died in New Hampshire’s White Mountains after she got caught in one of many recent winter storms and activated a personal locator beacon. The National Guard flew over the area the signal was coming from and then a team of rescuers braved 108-mph winds and frigid temperatures to reach her, only too late.

Of course, the difference between a hiking trip and a fishing trip is that one is for leisure and one is for a living. But another significant difference is that on a properly equipped boat, you have a survival suit.

Very early Monday morning, when the crew of the 80-footer Savannah Ray ran aground, they sent an alert via EPIRB, got in their survival suits and prepared their life raft. The Coast Guard’s Kodiak station sent an MH-60 to retrieve them in 45-knot winds with rain and 11-foot seas. The crew was rescued within 90 minutes. (Watch the rescue video below.)

There is so much we can do to improve our own safety, from PLBs to weather forecasting and understanding what certain conditions can mean for a trip to sea. Being able to send out a mayday is no guarantee of rescue. As hard as the Coast Guard works to reach fishermen in peril, they can’t always work miracles. But having access to your survival suit and knowing how to get it on and quickly may save your life. And remember that if you can’t get it on in a minute while standing on stable, dry land, how long will it take to don it properly while the deck is rolling?

Having a beacon can save your life, as can a careful assessment of the weather. But no matter what happens, chance will always play a role. Don’t pile on the chances by being unprepared.

Most of the seiners that call Washington’s Puget Sound home head to Alaska for spring herring and summer salmon. But what do you do when you can’t line up new permits and your boat has a long list of repairs? Well for the owners of the 56-foot seiner Memories out of Gig Harbor, the answer was simple: fish at home.

2015 0212 MarchFreelancer Lael Henterly goes aboard the seiner for a day of fishing in South Sound for fall chums in an At-Sea feature on page 22 of our March issue. It may not be Alaska, but a dark-to-dark day with 4,700 pounds of salmon is still a good day fishing.

Kendall Henry, a Puget Sound Commercial Salmon Fishery Manager with the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife, sent in some further notes on the local observer program:

“The reason the observers are out there is that chinook and coho have been designated by the WDFW commission as priority species for recreational fishermen in Puget Sound. Recreational priority combined with concerns over ESA listed stocks has meant that we have to require the commercial seine fleet to release chinook and coho in many of their fisheries and since these species are no longer appearing on fish tickets, we need observers to know how many fish they are encountering. In Puget Sound we are not out there with some sort of enforcement agenda to estimate compliance with the rules. Our observers are out there to count fish, and that is it.”

One note of correction is that the observer’s name in the story was Brandon Phinney, not Phinnell.

Yesterday a group of environmental advocates testified before a Maine legislative policy committee in support of a bill to ban the use of synthetic microbeads. The tiny beads, no larger than a third of a millimeter in diameter, are typically found in facial scrubs, body washes and even toothpaste. They bypass wastewater treatment plants that are not designed to filter them and wind up in our waterways, where they are absorbed or eaten by all manner of marine creatures.

2015 0205 GyreThe Great Pacific garbage patch is created in the gyre of the North Pacific Subtropical Convergence Zone. NOAA renderingMaine is one of 20 states that will introduce some prohibition on microbeads this year. One of the biggest concerns is the unwitting human ingestion of microplastics that are present in the shellfish we eat.

But microbeads are only a small, ahem, part of the problem. Plastic particles, the majority of which are called nurdles, which are about 5 millimeters in diameter, are the largest source of plastic water pollution contributing to massive swaths of floating debris in the oceans, including the Great Pacific garbage patch.

The ultimate quandary is how to rid our waters of these polymers, which do not degrade like organic substances. As plastic disintegrates in the water, it merely breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces that concentrate in the upper water column. The simplest solution is to reduce our use of plastics and dispose of them properly.

If you’re interested in avoiding products that contain microbeads before legislation can weed them out, visit beatthemicrobead.org to download an app that will keep you updated as you shop.

We are hunkered down here in Maine. You may have heard about Juno, this little blizzard we’re having. Though our downtown office is closed to keep our staff off the roads, we are plugging away from our home offices. Like the fishermen we so admire, our work rarely stops because the weather gets a little hinky. The significant difference being that we’re not out in it.

2015 0127 MissAlly2The Canadian Coast Guard found no sign of the five missing Nova Scotia lobstermen in the overturned Miss Ally. RCMP photoIt was just about two years ago that the last big winter storm, Nemo, hit the Northeast and the Maritimes. I remember because I was in the Nova Scotia fishing town of Yarmouth. Reports from home were of more than 2 feet of snow, and my coworker and I thought we’d never make it to Halifax in time to catch our flight back to Maine the next day.

In a moment of great daring and stupidity, we decided to brave the drive to Halifax a night early, almost 200 miles on a two-lane undivided and unlit road (now called the Fishermen’s Memorial Highway), as the storm was churning away from the coast, and hole up there the night before our flight. The drive was long and hairy. Every time we stopped for coffee or gas, the locals looked at us like we had three heads when we reported that we were going to keep driving. When Canadians think the storm is too rough to go on, it’s probably wise to listen to them.

But we made it to Halifax many hours later, had a lovely warm supper by a fireplace, and got on our flight the next day. Smooth sailing all the way home, where they had gotten 32 inches of powder.

Being out in bad weather reminds me how easy I have it most days, even driving through a blizzard, at least I was on solid ground that may have been passed over by a plow truck recently enough for the tires to grab the road.

Just two days after we left Yarmouth, the five-man crew of the Nova Scotia lobster boat Miss Ally was lost to rough seas, most likely capsized by a rogue wave.

Fishing is a risky business as it is. I hope all of our fleets are safe in port or far enough off the coast to endure this storm in relative calm.

Late last week, the menhaden industry learned that something good can come from having special interest groups get involved in the management of your fishery.

2015 0120 MenhadenThe Wallace clan unloads pogies in Phippsburg, Maine. A new menhaden assessment includes a broader range of the fishery outside of its predominant Southern grounds.In response to a wave of layoffs and outcry from the menhaden fleet when their quota was slashed by 20 percent in 2012, the managers responded by assigning a technical team to find as many new sources of data on the fishery as they possibly could and to assess the new model.

(I call that going above and beyond. But the truth is, any major fishery should have the resources to do exactly what the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission did in this case, especially when a new model shows a drastically different assessment of the fishery than prior data indicated.)

In 2012, managers bowed to pressure by a suite of NGOs who claim the fishery is overfished. The model used to develop the 2012 assessment has since been determined to be deeply flawed. That determination was made by a team of fishery scientists whose objective is to get the science right and leave behind the politics. The new data covers a wider geographical range, as well as a deeper historical scope.

Despite what some of the opposition would have us believe, the result of the new benchmark assessment is not a backslide to the old days of so-called mismanagement. Rather, it’s a whole new world for the menhaden fishery with new sources of data in abundance.

And yet still we are not tapping the valuable resource of spotter pilots who search for schools of menhaden from the air to direct purse seine skippers toward their prey.

Read more about the menhaden fishery’s eyes in the sky in our upcoming March issue.

Reality TV series have taken over the race for fish. It seems every time you turn around, there’s another camera crew rushing off to the fishing grounds, wrapping their tentacles around the next muscle fishery to capture the action and drama that comes with commercial fishing.

2015 0115 BattleBayWill these "Battle on the Bay" fishermen be the next famous faces of the industry?The fact is, they’re not wrong. Compared to the sedentary lifestyles of most Americans, the kind of work fishermen do is legitimately exciting. And to think, most of us get to watch all the action from the comfort of our own overstuffed couches.

When you go to fishing towns where these shows are based (or read the blogs about them), the local people tend to roll their eyes a bit about the choice of the stars, how unrealistic the so-called reality show is, how commercial it’s gotten or is bound to be. But behind that eye roll, there’s a glimmer. They’re a little puffed up to have some inside knowledge of a national show.

We all tend to get caught up in our own little worlds. People think as a magazine editor that I write all day long. I do a good bit of writing, but what I do most is generate and traffic ideas for stories, staying in contact with the people who write them, editing them as they come in, finding photos and other art to accompany them. And that’s just for the magazine. I do the same for our website, the newsletter we send out twice a week, the quarterly we send out to the West Coast and Alaska, our conference programs and any other industry-related shows and conferences I’d like to attend in my, uh, spare time.

You get the idea. As busy as I am and as exciting as I find my work, I’m doubtful it would make a decent reality show. But what you do is genuinely thrilling, and it’s unlike anything else. I know it can be repetitive. And for many of you the lifestyle is all you’ve ever known. All your parents and grandparents knew. It’s what many of your friends do.

But there’s no denying that it’s wild. And most of America simply has no idea — until they see it come across the screen. The death-defying action of the American fishboys!

Sure, I’d like to see more interesting and thoughtful shows about the nation’s commercial fisheries. But we all know what makes for popular TV, and it’s not thoughtfulness. But what does happen when there’s yet another fishing reality show is that a small portion of those viewers will have their eyes opened to what it all really means. Those will be the people who will watch the documentaries about commercial fishing. Those are the people who might happen upon your direct-marketing page on Facebook. Those are the people who will ask where their fish comes from the next time they walk up to the fish counter. And I would guess some of them might even try fish from your waters for the first time after watching the show.

It’s easy to imagine that being in the spotlight exposes all the wrong things. But ultimately, most people don’t remember all of the gory details. What they remember is that you fish for a living, and they want to eat what you catch.

Just look at Sig Hansen. He was just another Norwegian-Alaskan crab captain. Sure he may have stepped in it a little with his Russian crab deal. But just look at him now on Celebrity Apprentice! The general public doesn’t remember the bad stuff unless it’s really, really bad and consistently so.

Love him or otherwise, Sig represents king crab. And what that means is that every time his face is on TV, someone who might not have thought of it is going to go out and buy some king crab. That may not be the marketing scheme of your dreams. But the reality is it gets people talking about and buying American-caught fish. And that is nothing to roll your eyes at.

I will never forget talking to the late (and great) Larry Simns about Chesapeake Bay fisheries. Larry, an NF Highliner and longtime president of the Maryland Watermen’s Association, was one of the first old-timers to talk to me in detail about the health of the estuaries and bays being critical to the future of many fisheries. As Larry explained it, small-scale fishermen were the original environmentalists.

2015 0108 Fleming FebRead more about the next generation of Chesapeake crabbers in our February issue.I’m not sure how he would feel about the bay’s D+ grading from the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. The report released this week acknowledges that the bay’s health is improving, but says that farmland and urban runoff are still hampering restoration efforts. Larry was a leader in the mission to clean up the bay. He knew the future of bay and its harvesters depended on water pure enough to breed temperamental oysters and blue crabs.

And for that reason, I am sure Mr. Simns would be proud of the next generation of commercial fishermen taking to the bay to fulfill a dream of independence on and off the water. Writer and photographer Jay Fleming’s feature story in our February issue highlights the working lives of Annapolis-based crab fishermen Nick Crook (skipper/owner), 27, and his deckboss Ben Byers, 24.

These young upstarts leave the dock at the end of a long fishing day and hop in a truck to carry their product directly to restaurants and consumers. In their spare time, they’re marketing and making connections with new retail outlets.

Maybe the extra-long hours and legwork is what makes it a young man’s game. But whatever it is, these baymen are carrying on a long tradition of planting the seeds for the next generation, just as Larry and his contemporaries did for them.

This Christmas season has been particularly hectic in my house with a new baby, being back in the office full time starting the first of the month (whose idea was it to start back to work in December?) and a very excited almost-5-year-old whose enthusiasm for the season I am trying to foster and not take for granted.

This time of year is always busy, and it can be so easy to get caught up in the lists and gloss over what’s really important. This morning I read a story that put it all into perspective for me once again.

2014 1223 ShrimpFireVideo still of the shrimp boat Miss Eva engulfed in flames near Grand Isle, La. Click to watch the video.Shrimper Ryan Barcot was burned over 75 percent of his body when the boat he was working on exploded in flames near Grand Isle, La., on Dec. 1. As you can see from the video, the crew was lucky to be within sight of an offshore oil supply vessel that witnessed the fire and called for help.

The open ocean can be a lonely place. When a layperson watches footage like this, they can see why fishing is so dangerous. The shrimp boat appears to be isolated, surrounded by miles of water. But in the scope of ocean fishing, the fact that they were visible by another boat means that they were far closer to help than many fishermen are in their daily work.

A rescue at sea is inherently miraculous. In Barcot's case, proximity to another vessel would not have been enough to save him just a few hours later. For the next two days, the area was covered in a dense fog. Chris Hanks, the oil rig foreman who witnessed the fire and alerted the Coast Guard, told the Times-Picayune: ""If it would have happened the next day, the boat would have burned up. I would have never seen the smoke."

As I was preparing to post this blog, I got an email from a friend of a Montauk, N.Y., fisherman who was injured in an ATV accident on Sunday. He’s suffering from a traumatic brain injury (despite reportedly wearing a helmet), and his friends are reaching out to raise money. Henry Sjoman is only 24, but he has been fishing for almost a decade, longlining for tilefish on the Kimberly for the last five years.

My thoughts are with the friends and family of these two fishermen as they navigate a difficult holiday season. You can also make a donation to Barcot's recovery via GoFundMe.

Every fall, as the days get colder and shorter, I find myself giving thanks for my friends and family, for this life with which I have been graced and, once we have passed the solstice, for the slow return to longer, warmer sunnier days.

The planet keeps spinning, and we are just here for the ride. Don’t take too many moments for granted without pausing to be grateful. Forget a few of the things you’re “supposed” to do, and instead take a few beats to give someone you love a sincere thank you.

Merry Christmas and a happy New Year to all of you.

It’s the most wonderful time of the year!

2014 1218 LOSNeed a last-minute stocking stuffer? You have one day left to grab the Lobster Fishermen's Calendar. No excuses! Heroes of the Sea/Joe Greene photoThat’s right, folks. The shopping days to Christmas are going fast, and if you celebrate Hannukah, you’re really down to the wire to get something special for the last few nights.

Regardless of your denomination — eating lobster may not be Kosher, but the fishery is sustainable — if you want to celebrate the North Atlantic lobsterman, tomorrow (Dec. 19) is your deadline to get the Heroes of the Sea 2015 Lobster Fishermen’s Calendar delivered before Dec. 25.

The calendar features lobstermen from Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Maine, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick, and is the result of a remarkable collaboration of seven U.S. and Canadian lobster organizations. Proceeds are donated to a variety of charities near and dear to the lobstermen who comprise the bulk of the organizations.

And thanks to the digital age, there’s always more online. The Heroes of the Sea website features short bios of each starring lobsterman along with an expanded photo album from each shoot, captured by photographer Joe Greene. PEI’s Captain Alcide, 84, has been fishing for 70 years and calls fishing “the healthiest life you can know.”

Who am I to quibble with an octogenarian skipper? I’d best get out my card and make it so.

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National Fisherman Live

National Fisherman Live: 2/26/15

In this episode, National Fisherman's Online Editor Leslie Taylor speaks with Rick Constantine, vice president of marketing, Acme United Corporation, about Cuda corrosion resistant knives.

National Fisherman Live: 2/24/15

In this episode:

March date set for disaster aid dispersal
Oregon LNG project could disrupt fishing
NOAA tweaks gear marking requirement
N.C. launches first commercial/recreational dock
Spiny lobster traps limits not well received

Inside the Industry

Today Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) introduced legislation to extend a permanent exemption for incidental runoff from small commercial fishing boats.

Read more...

The National Working Waterfront Network is now accepting abstracts and session proposals for the next National Working Waterfronts & Waterways Symposium, taking place Nov. 16-19 in Tampa, Fla. The deadline is Tax Day, April 15.

Read more...
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